The Rise and Demise of the SAT: The University of California Generates Change for College Admissions

By Berger, Susan J. | American Educational History Journal, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

The Rise and Demise of the SAT: The University of California Generates Change for College Admissions


Berger, Susan J., American Educational History Journal


Anybody paying attention to modern school reform will not be surprised to learn that new SAT results show scores in reading, writing and math are down compared with those of last year, and stagnant or declining for several years. Critical reading scores are the lowest in 40 years (Strauss 2011).

Over the past few months, news about the SAT has made national headlines and not in a good way: "Large SAT Score Decline Shows Failure of 'No Child Left Behind' and State High-Stakes Testing Strategy" (FairTest 2011); "Eshaghoff, Emory University Student, Allegedly Took SAT For Other Students" (Huffington Post 2011); "SAT cheating scheme uncovered; 7 arrested" (Strauss 2011); "SAT Cheating Scandal: Are Stakes Getting Too High for College Admission?" (Khadaroo 2011); "Why Are Students Cheating on the SAT?" (Huffington Post 2011); "SAT Cheating Won't Go Away Soon" (Dobrin 2011). First name Eshaghoff was interviewed on 60 Minutes (60 Minutes 2012) regarding his fraudulent operation. His bravado, as well as his ego, took front and center. The ease of his cheating was well known in his community by those with financial means. His illegal business was caught, but how many more Eshaghoff ventures are out there? Testing and assessment have gotten out of control. Since the SAT is factored into the college admission process, it becomes is painfully obvious the system needs an overhaul.

Tests have been and still are used to sort students into different educational tracks, to determine promotion from one grade level to the next, and, in some instances, award more prestigious high school (as opposed to vocational or local) diplomas (Linn 2001). This has not been without controversy. Admission tests seem to have lost an important component in college admissions. High school curricula and their resulting grades "are the best indicator of student readiness for college, and standardized tests are useful primarily as a supplement to the high school record" (Atkinson and Geiser 2009, 665). But how did the SAT become synonymous with college admissions requirements? Why are universities rethinking the use of the SAT in their admissions processes? Lastly, what does the future of the SAT look like? The "combination of enthusiastic support and strong disapproval has had a long history" in spite of the SAT changing its format throughout the twentieth century (Linn 2001, 29). Today, the SAT is "utilized in some capacity by nearly every selective institution in the country as a measure of a student's ability" (Epstein 2009, 9). However, it seems that these selective institutions may be using the SAT for purposes other than predicting academic success of admitted students.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Standardized testing has been an integral part of educational assessment throughout out the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. It has generated a love-hate relationship among students applying to college and universities. Standardized testing "has seen extraordinary growth over the past century and appears to be on the cusp of still more far-reaching changes" (Atkinson and Geiser 2009, 665). Originally, testing was a means for improving efficiency and managing the student population growth in the early part of the twentieth century. As wars were waged across the globe and major European nations were consolidating power and colonizing regions, America was experiencing a great influx of immigrants. Between 1890 and 1918, "the high school student population grew at a rate more than 10 times that of the growth in the overall population" (Linn 2001, 29-30). Conflicts, wars, and shifting populations contributed to a perceived necessity to sort America's new populace.

With the United States' entry into World War I, it was believed that military leaders be the brightest and those with lower aptitudes serve on the battlefronts. Many adherents of eugenics and the study of human intellect believed that intelligence was "the single most important trait, and therefore the one around which society should be organized; they believed it was genetically inherited" (Lemann 2000, 23). …

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